Friday, December 18, 2009


I've been marking each day during the month of December.  Counting each one down.  On December 31, I'll close the door to my office, turn in my ID badge and parking sticker.  I will then slowly walk through the security gates of where I've worked for 34 years.  I won't turn around for one last look because I will either be close to tears or already crying and I hate for people to see me cry.  I know that once I'm outside those gates, they'll close behind me and I doubt very much I'll ever be back inside again.

They call it retirement.  I think that word is too final.  I call it the second phase of my life.  After all, I'm not even close to being finished with life's adventures, I'm just moving onto a new phase.

No longer will I have to get up at the crack of dawn (or dark), find Sunday afternoons come around too quickly, worry about getting safely to work on icy roads or have to leave for work on a beautiful summer morning.  At 56 years of age, I can go where I want, when I want and rarely have to be in a certain place at a specific time.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  Yet....I'm a people person and my current job has taken me on email, phone or travel all over the United States.  I've been working here so long that when I travel across the country to meetings it's like a class reunion.  I'll no longer have that social interaction or be known as a subject matter expert in my profession.  I've sweated dirt to make it up the career ladder and now I'm walking away from it.

I became eligible to retire last year but chose to stay, telling those who asked me why I was still working that I wasn't sure what I'd do with my free time.  My mind was changed when I was presented with an opportunity to work part time for my favorite, now retired manager.  I'm honored to be asked to join his team and my new job is interesting and gives me the flexibility to work where I want, when I want.  Such a wonderful opportunity, if I declined I knew it wouldn't come around again.  I couldn't pass it up.

I've been building a mental plan on how to keep busy, stay active and healthy.  Much of this centers on horses (of course)!  I've set seasonal riding goals for 2010.   I'll maintain the web page for our barn and network with the trainers and my fellow riders.  I'll join the local APHA club, pitch in to help and maybe I'll ride Champ (aka Want My Autograph) in one of their shows.  I'll continue to mentor anybody who is interested in horses, spreading the wealth as best I can.

But I will never forget the great trip I've had on the ride of my career.  I'm grateful for the experience and humbled at the upcoming opportunity.  As 2010 dawns, so will a new life for this 50+rider.

Monday, December 14, 2009

In The Blink of an Eye

My husband and I were in the SPIRT of the Holidays late Saturday afternoon as we set out to hang lights on our fence line. 

We had sorted through all the good and bad lights, committing to sorting through them before we put them away this year instead of waiting until the following year and finding strings that no longer work. 

We had pulled out all the ugly orange extension power cords that stand out like a sore thumb during the daylight hours but disappear in the darkness.  

Wanting to share our holiday spirit, I ran into the house to get our dog, Hank, while my husband headed out with the decorations.  I had no idea my husband was taking a detour to the barn to get the 4-Wheeler to carry all our stuff. 

Hank loves to run with the 4-Wheeler.  The faster one drives, the happier Hank is to run along side.  But the slower one goes puts Hank into a tizzy and he barks and nips at the tires.  So usually when the 4-Wheeler comes out, Hank goes in.

When I saw my husband with the 4-Wheeler I almost took Hank back in the house.  But what the heck, I told myself, he's been cooped up in the house all day while we were gone and he should to be out here with his family while they decorate for the holidays.

With the recent cold weather, the 4-Wheeler was having issues, so my husband headed down our drive to warm it up with Hank running alongside.  I recall laughing at the dog smile on Hank's face as my husband accelerated and they both flew back up our road. 

So as the saying goes, in the blink of an eye our afternoon priorities changed when Hank slipped and his left leg went under the tires.  The holiday spirit and lights were forgotten as we headed to the emergency vet clinic.

We returned home Hank-less and depressed while Hank spent the night at the vets.  I can't tell you how many times we have beat ourselves up for what occurred.  We both feel terrible and share the blame for what happened in the blink of an eye.

Hank returned home yesterday morning with stitches and a cone necklace but thankfully, no broken bones.  Negotiating with the cone has been a challenge for us all. His cone has already been re-styled after bumping into my leg last night was we came back in from the cold barn. 

We got our Christmas gift early this year and we surely learned a lesson in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spreading the Wealth - Our Role in The Future

We were exposed to horses as children with our western movies and TV shows.  There weren't many kids I knew who didn't want a horse like Trigger or Silver.  Horses were close in proximity, whether they were on your place, your Grandparent's farm, or just down the road. 

Topology has dramatically changed from rolling pastures to housing developments.  Suburbia is spreading, reducing exposure to horses and eliminating the fields that once grew their feed.

We currently face some of the highest numbers we've ever seen in unemployment.  Many are working more hours and/or more then one job to try to make ends meet.  From groceries to Christmas presents, people are cutting back.  Owning a horse has never been such a luxury as it is today.

Youth membership in Breed and 4H Horse programs are at a record low.  Pony rides at the fair (if your county still hosts a fair and offers pony rides) sit idle and ignored as children pass by.  To me, this says a lot about tomorrow's generation and it's a red warning light for the future of the horse industry.

Our local auction barn is packed the first Sunday of each month for the Horse Sale.  But the majority attending are dropping off, not picking up.  Older, healthy, well seasoned horses are going to slaughter.  Horses that could be a perfect fit for today's youth or a reliable, confidence builder for tentative riders.  Credible stories regarding the abandonment of horses abound.

Ugh!  I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.  But there must be something we who grew up with the love of horses and have that gotta ride/love of horses in our core, can do to help get people back to horses and horses back to people.  Here's some thoughts on what I came up with:

     a.  Mentoring those interested in horses.  They're out there but don't have the resources, ability, or even know where to go to be near horses.  I've mentored friends, their children and even my own family.  I've gone to lengths to drive them out to our place so they could have some hands-on with our horses, hoping I could entice them to get further involved.

     b.  Knowing Your Resources.  This is one of the first lessons I learned when I bought my first horse.  Knowing reputable resources, like local barns, vets, farriers, and various types of trainers, as well as who might be considering half-leasing a suitable horse is not only helpful to you but helpful to someone interested in horses. 

I'm picky about the resources I refer people to.  My credibility is part of their adventure and I want them to come away with a positive experience that will bring them further into the world of horses.  Knowing who to go to and where to turn helps all involved.

     c.  Half-leasing or Sharing Your Horse.  This is a debatable subject with lots of pros and cons.  I experienced this last year, half-leasing to a 4H'er and I surely experienced many pros and cons.  But overall, it helped me out fiscally and allowed someone without a horse a chance to ride and participate in the 4H horse program.  They eventually went onto purchase their own horse and since that is what I want to endorse, I consider it a success.

     d.  Proudly Market Your Interest.  Most of us with the love of horses are easy to spot.  We have pictures on our desks and computer screens.  Our weekly updates on horse life are notorious in the office on Monday mornings.  Friends and family members just can't understand what we're doing outside with our horses on a Saturday morning in 15 degree weather when we could spend the day shopping at the Mall.

Sure I've encountered those who aren't interested in my horse life, yet those same individuals have approached me because they knew of someone who was interested.  So ignore those who 'don't get it' and proudly market the wonderful life style you've chosen.

     e.  Support an Equine Program.  Whether it's money or time, they'll welcome you with open arms.  They need all the help they can get these days and you'll get to interact with those who have your same interests.  You'll also be able to unleash some of your creative skills and maybe if you're lucky, pull family members in.  You'd be amazed at  how much fun it can be when your whole family is part of an initiative such as this.

Well, that's what I came up with but I'd sure welcome your thoughts on this subject.  There has got to be some way that we who grew up with Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger, fell in love with horses and the life style surrounding them and went on to have them in our lives, can pass the torch onto tomorrow's generation.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

In Search of Roy

I come from a family who has salt water and ranch life mixed in their blood.  Great (x4) Grandpa was one of the first cowboys down the Chisholm Trail.  He served in the Civil War and the war between Texas and Mexico, eventually settling on a ranch in Texas where he raised a bundle of kids and horses.  The saddle he used in the wars and then to teach his kids to ride sits in our tack room.

My Great Grandpa ended up in the Northwest.  I'm not sure what got him all the way out here or prompted him to get into the tug and barge business.  One of my first recollections as a child, is missing my favorite Saturday show, Fury, and being out on a tug instead, my siblings and I being babysat by a patient deck hand while my parents checked crab pots.

I grew up with miles of woods on one side of our neighborhood and on the other side, a few blocks down, train tracks that ran between our house and Bellingham Bay.  Sometimes the neighborhood Dads would gather up all the kids and we'd walk down and across the train tracks to explore the beach.  There was always a lot of pomp and circumstance about crossing the train tracks and we were constantly warned to never go down there by ourselves.

One summer morning, my fellow cowboy pardner, the neighborhood boy Sonny, and I decided to go looking for Roy Rogers.  We figured that these riders and horses, which kept coming out through our woods, must have a ranch by Roy's. 

Armed with our cap guns, cowboy hats and Trigger thermos's full of water (our canteens), we headed off into the woods in search of Roy at first light.  We walked long and far that day, so sure we'd shortly come upon Roy's ranch.  Being out on the trail, we ate wild blackberries and huckleberries for lunch.  But by late afternoon our "canteens" were empty and we were hungry and thirsty.

We came out of the woods as the sun was starting to set.  I recall the odd feeling of realizing the houses didn't look like ours.  Sonny was also confused, his house was painted pink and there were no pink houses.  Our house was painted green and down the road was a green house so I figured it must be mine even if it wasn't shaped like mine.  I started heading to the green house but Sonny stopped me, telling me that wasn't my house.  We stood in the middle of the road arguing, two tired five-year old cowboys, not sure what to do next.

We must have been quite a sight.  A women came out of her house, asked us our names and if we were hungry.  Boy were we!  All thoughts of finding Roy were gone.  Food was the only thing on our minds.  She sat us down at her picnic table and told us to stay put, then brought us juice and sandwiches.  We ate like we hadn't eaten in days.

Well, that's about the time my Mom came barreling up in her car.  Mom was not happy, in fact Mom was very unhappy.  She thanked the women (who happened to know my mom and knew of me) and pretty much pushed us into the car.  Mom told us that "everybody" had been out looking for us the entire day.  Everybody included all the deck hands on the tugs.  Afraid we'd gone down by the train tracks, all the tugs had been brought into dock and the hands had pitched in to scour the beach and surrounding areas for two children.  All the neighbors had joined the search party.  Our parents were frantic.

Arriving home, Sonny and I faced two sets of angry parents.  We were both placed on restriction and our cap guns confiscated - the most horrible sentence a five year old who lives to play Cowboy can face. 

Sonny and I never did go out searching for Roy again.  We both decided that Roy's ranch was further away then one could walk in a day and probably why everybody rode horses.  Having no horses to ride, we settled back into running the trails of the woods and riding our rocks and fences, our make-believe steeds that took us to all the same places Roy went and life as a 5-year old cowboy continued as before.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Winter Barn Chores

When I get home from work my husband and I do the winter barn chores together.  It's been this way ever since we've had horses.  Whoever gets home first waits for the other one and then we go out together with our dog, Hank. 

This is our time to talk about our days and shake off any leftover thoughts of work and stress.  It's our time to mentally come back home.  Work talk stays at the barn, home talk comes back into the house.

We've separated the barn chores and each of us has our own tasks.  We split the water, my husband does the hay and I do the grain.  I go about opening the various garbage cans of grain set up for each horse, dipping the scoop in deep and coming up full.  The grain and pellets smell good and there's a feeling of wealth in seeing the cans brimming with feed, just as there is in seeing all the plump bales of sweet smelling Orchard Grass.  I deliver my grain to each horse a little differently. 

For Cisco, our Quarter Horse and our been there/done that guy who keeps his distance and isn't personable, I offer a handful of grain before pouring it into his feeder.  I wait for him to approach me and eat out of my hand.  I have spent the last two years trying to get him comfortable around me and allow me to pet him without seeing his skin shudder at the first few strokes.  He now waits at his feeder for me and has stopped backing up when I approach and offer my hand of grain.  It might be taking years but I'm slowly making progress and the wait is worth it.

For Sunny, our ancient Belgian, who is as kind as he is big, I slowly pour the grain into his feeder with the pomp and circumstance of someone carving a Thanksgiving turkey.  I can hear him saying, "Ummm!  Me Like Grain!!"  I then pet and coo over him while he savors his grain.  I tell him how special he is to us, our first rescue horse, now starting to physically fail.  It's important that Sunny knows how special he is to us.

For our new younger horse, Gus, also a Belgian, feeding time includes training.  Gus is also kind and sweet but he's full of personality, which includes lots of nickers.  He's anxious to get his grain and is learning that he needs to respectful of my personal space when I feed him.  He's only been with us for a week but he's already learning to wait for me to pour his grain before he proceeds to come forward and eat.  I can see that he's a smart horse and learns fast.  He's going to be a good horse for my husband to ride.  While Gus eats I rub my hands all over him, picking up his feet, smoothing out his long white mane.  I tell him he's a good boy and that we're happy to have him as part of our family.

We do our winter chores by the indoor and outside lights of the barn.  We're accompanied by the dark and cold of winter along with the challenging weather it brings.  We've stood inside the barn listening to the rain pound on the tin roof and then suddenly fall quiet as it turns to snow.  We've silently glanced at each other as the wind howled and the lights flickered off and on (both of us realizing we didn't bring a flashlight).  We've hustled through the barn chores as our bodies and breath froze.  Just last night we hung on the fence and watched the full moon and how it lit up the fields.

Winter chores are harder and take longer then summer chores.  But the extra physical labor is a good feeling after being cooped up in an office all day. 

On winter nights we always sigh when we come into our warm and cozy house.  I light candles and the fire, put on my cozy sweats and start dinner.  There is a feeling of peace because our animals are safe, warm and fed.  All is well with the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Get That Horse!

As a kid, every Sunday we'd all pile into the car and travel out to a family friend's dairy farm in a little town called Lynden, Washington.  Dad and Mom in the front, little brother and I in the back seat, little sister in the way back....of our 1958 Volkswagen Beetle.

My brother and I used to play a game called, "I Get That Horse."  The rules were simple, first one to spot the horse yelled out as loud as they could, "I Get That Horse!"  That's it.  They who yelled first got the horse until we spotted another one and on it went.

Sometimes we'd both spot the same horse at the same time and yell in unison.  This always brought on a heated debate, if not more.  You could be sure that if it was a white horse (Silver) or a yellow horse (Trigger), things would escalate quickly to pushing and shoving, which led to pinching and kicking, which since kicking is hard in the backseat of a VW led to punches. 

This is when a hand would materialize from between the front bucket seats and start slapping whatever it could reach - usually both of us.  This would quiet us for about 5 minutes and then we were back at it until the hand would again materialize.  I'm sure the forty-five minute drive seemed like hours to our poor parents.

We traveled this way for many years, fighting over which one of us Got That Horse. 

Poor little sister didn't stand a chance competing against the two of us in this game.  So she invented her own game.

In-between our yelling and arguing, kicking, pinching and slugging, a tiny voice would pipe out from the way back, "I Get That Cow!"